You Can Do It, Too: The SUNY Fredonia Story
The SUNY Fredonia Story
By Caitlin Levesque, former student, SUNY Fredonia
Two years ago, I was in the middle of my summer internship in Washington, D.C. at the same time Barack Obama became the Democratic front-runner for the 2008 Presidential election. It was at that moment, being in D.C., that I realized State University of New York (SUNY) Fredonia students needed to capitalize on this historic opportunity to become civically engaged; and I would be their cheerleader.
There were several obstacles that stood in my way: low voter turnout rate in the past, lack of interest in political issues and elections, high dissatisfaction with the government, and most importantly, an underlying sense of disenfranchisement amongst youth voters.
How we did it!
So, how did SUNY Fredonia register 1,065 new voters and have an 88% turnout rate on November 4th, 2008? I quickly realized that I was unable to transform our students’ perception on my own, and began to use my relationships with professors, student groups and, most importantly, my friends to help implement this non-partisan campaign. By weekly tabling, knocking on dorm room doors, invading classrooms, hosting open mic nights, and causing quite a ruckus, our team registered over a thousand students in just under five weeks.
Getting Students to the Polls
Then the biggest struggle began: how do we get these registered voters to the
polls? By connecting with our local TV and radio stations, as well as newspapers we were able to put out ads that told students exactly where to go and when. Realizing how detrimental it would be to have a group of uninformed first-time voters heading to the polls, we decided to work with several students with expertise in the economy, environment, and foreign policy fields to develop three teach-ins discussing these areas. Total turnout at these events exceeded 200 students. Next we began to focus our time and
energy on planning for Election Day. From chalking polling information all over our campus’ concrete, to hanging banners directing people where to go to vote, to enlisting our own “Abe Lincoln” and “Uncle Sam” to invade dining halls, libraries and classrooms, we transformed the SUNY Fredonia campus. We were able to engage students and volunteers who finally understood the issues and saw the importance of young voter participation in the election. Most importantly, our efforts helped to flip our county from red to blue, putting Fredonia on the electoral map like never before.
In order to replicate SUNY Fredonia’s success, we need to advocate for strong civic programs in our colleges. Studies show that first time voters make lifetime voters. By advocating for youth turnout in and around campuses across our country for the 2010 Midterm elections, we can create a voter bloc that will be influential in the 2012 election and beyond. By understanding your audience, and educating yourself on issues that students can relate to; we can create a citizenry of youth voters and help keep our country on track.
If you’re looking for a way to get started on connecting with like-minded young people helping to promote civic engagement, check out some of these sites:
- Civic Youth offers a wide range of statistics as well as State Election Laws
- Rock the Vote allows student leaders to download toolkits to help start a voter registration campaign
- On The Issues is a necessary tool If you are trying to inform your new voters on key issues that will encourage them to get to the polls